Preparing this proposal held a challenge that’s becoming more and more familiar. I was fortunate to work with the dynamic CEO of FirstVitals Health and Wellness. He brought together a highly skilled team — including a healthcare CIO and two MDs with executive experience — to support proposal development. All to the good. However, we were in as many as four different time zones, ranging from Honolulu to Jerusalem. That’s a 13 hour difference, and these are all busy people with career and family commitments. The solution was to commit to a minimum number of conference calls — kick-off and review — and use Google Docs to coordinate initial drafts. One key observation here: I love Google Docs when dealing with simple text, but once you begin integrating tables and graphic elements, it’s time to shift to the industry standard — Microsoft Word. When you have a number of cooks in the kitchen, it’s crucial to track approvals and maintain version control. You don’t need a pricey proposal management software system — a spreadsheet and discipline in using the Word ‘track changes’ and ‘save’ functions will work quite well. (The lack of a decent ‘track changes’ option in Excel is a gripe for another day.)
I had a great team supporting this effort, and I’m proud of the proposal we put together. CMS received 3,000 applications and funded 107. I played the horses a bit in my graduate school days, and though I was studying English literature not math, I knew that 30 to 1 was the longest of longshots.
For more details on the project, a nice combination of high-tech and high touch to improve outcomes for low-income diabetics in Hawaii, take a look at the FirstVitals press release.
No doubt you remember the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the contentious health care reform legislation that led to warnings of death panels.
Well, the death panels never materialized, but a good deal of funding has. The success of health care reform is premised partly on improved efficiency, and that road runs through demonstration grants. The Health Care Innovation Challenge (managed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or CMS for short) offers $1 billion for projects that can demonstrate efficiency paired with improved health outcomes. Grants will be for three years and range from $1 to $30 million. I estimate we’ll see about 200 awards. That’s a lot of projects.
CMS is looking for hard numbers. Can you show detailed current costs for your target population and project sources of savings? If so, you’re well on your way. But that’s not enough. You need to show how the project will improve health indicators. These could be blood pressure, glycemic levels, preventable hospitalizations and the like. You need to root your projections firmly in the literature. Be prepared to lose some hours in the hypnotic maze of linked publications that is PubMed.
Interestingly, the RFP places a strong emphasis on job creation. This puts tech-savvy applicants in a potential bind. Say you reduce costs by deploying a technology that makes staff more efficient. You’re rewarded for saving money, but penalized for not adding (and potentially reducing) personnel.
It looks like there will be two rounds of funding. The first deadline is January 27th, but note that a required letter of intent is due on December 19th. Stay tuned for details on the second round.
The theme of Blog Action Day 2010 is clean water, a cause close to my heart since I live by an urban stream in north Seattle.
My neighborhood is called North Ballard by some, Broadview by others and Carkeek Park by still others. I call it the Pipers Creek Watershed.
The 1800 acre watershed is drained by a stream that used to be home to wild salmon. Those days are past, due probably to runoff from toxic lawns and oily streets. But local volunteers and the city have helped rehabilitate the stream, and it is populated by salmon again, albeit of the hatchery variety. (Though I’m told wild coho and steelhead are sometimes spotted in the creek.) The salmon should return in a few weeks. The run typically lasts from around Thanksgiving to mid-December.
How was Pipers Creek rehabilitated? A lot of volunteers, city workers and some grant money. So here’s a list of some resources to consider for your clean water project.
At the state level for Washington, the Department of Ecology is the source for clean water funds. There’s almost certainly a similar body in your state. Be aware that the state funds go mainly to governmental entities (counties, cities, conservation districts, tribes) but some nonprofits are eligible. Grant deadlines are typically in the fall, so go to their website now!
The Department of Ecology’s priorities are:
- Stream restoration and protection.
- Stormwater management and control.
- Construction of wastewater treatment plants and upgrades in small, financially-distressed towns.
- Planning, design and construction or upgrade of wastewater treatment facilities in large urban areas.
- On-site septic repair and replacement.
Normally, I would say think locally as well for grant funds.
Alas, this year’s budget crunch means money has dried up at both the county and city levels. (For example, the excellent WaterWorks program has been canceled, permanently it appears.) At the city level, there may be a few neighborhood grant funds. It’s a depressing situation, and I’m pretty sure Seattle is representative of most communities.
But when the economy rebounds (and it will), local clean water funding should return. In the meantime, I send out heart-felt thanks to all the volunteers that have helped restore urban creeks and streams in Seattle and beyond.
Your efforts are especially appreciated in these lean times!
I’m uploading today’s sample grant in honor of Blog Action Day ’09 and its theme of climate change.
There’s a perception that low-income advocacy and environmentalism are incompatible. Yet, I’m a life member of the Sierra Club as well as a Certified Community Action Professional (a designation conferred by today’s version of the War on Poverty organizations).
And that’s why I love this project. It allowed me to marry these two long-time interests. There must be a romantic project title in there somewhere, something to do with tilting at windmills with windmills, but I settled on a plain brown wrapper of a title.
Sample Grant Proposal Summary
The proposal describes an innovative source of energy assistance for low-income families. Nonprofits develop wind energy (turbines sited on property they own or control) and trade the power generated to local utilities for energy assistance credits. The credits are then transferred to LIHEAP eligible families as needed, often during the winter to offset high heating bills.
The grant proposal was funded for three years for a total of $1 million. The funding agency was the Office of Community Services (DHHS).
Today’s sample proposal takes us to Oakland.
The project had to strike a delicate balance. We needed to document both:
- my client’s street credibility (since we proposed outreach to sex workers and injecting drug users, groups that are extremely skittish about police and other officials), and
- my client’s medical chops (since the project included blood draws and STD HIV testing)
My client’s staff included former sex workers and injecting drug users, who were already doing AIDS HIV awareness outreach in the target neighborhood. They brought back first hand reports from the field, which I sprinkled throughout the proposal. That took care of issue 1.
To tackle issue 2, I made sure the budget included ample time and detailed job description for a phlebotomist. And we partnered with a local hospital with a lot of experience in AIDS HIV prevention and treatment. The hospital provided a letter that documented cash and in-kind support. I put that in bold to stress that, in general, support letters are a dime a dozen. But one that pledges material support…that’s gold. And grant proposal reviewers sit up and take notice.
This federal proposal was awarded $150,000 for each of three years for a total of $450,000. The granting agency was the Office of Minority Health. So, to win the grant, it was essential to document the number of minorities not only in the target population but also on the client’s board of directors and staff.
One last lesson from today’s sample proposal: Initially, we weren’t funded. We did get a glowing letter praising the project, with an apology to say they’d run out of funds. But we kept in contact with the funder. When they got an additional appropriation a few months later, we were at the head of the line.
Moral: Don’t give up, especially if you’ve gotten some positive feedback. A relationship with a funder is like any relationship. It’s based on keeping in touch. So don’t be shy about picking up the phone and calling a program officer!
Summary of the grant proposal: The 3-year project uses street level outreach to bring information about HIV and STD risk reduction to minority (emphasizing African-American) sex workers and injecting drug users (IDUs). The project also provides access to treatment at local medical/recovery facilities. Names of individuals and grantees have been altered to protect privacy. The narrative section of the proposal is attached. (Assurances, certifications, budgetary pages, and appendices have been omitted. For this reason, the attached materials are paginated from 19 to 51.)
If you have any questions about the proposal, just post a comment below. (No need to subscribe to the blog.)
See the FULL SAMPLE GRANT PROPOSAL HERE.
Today’s sample grant proposal is the first of several I’ll be uploading during the upcoming weeks. Each will be an example of a successful grant proposal for which I was the lead writer. Today’s grant proposal is a short foundation request to fund breast cancer awareness activities.
I prepared the proposal working closely with staff of the grantee. A slightly modified version was funded by Marin Community Foundation for $25,000. Names of persons and organizations have been altered to protect privacy. The proposal was strong because the organization was strong: The founders and activists were women living with breast cancer (or who had survived breast cancer), and their personal, informed commitment made for a compelling story.
It’s always a pleasure working with such an organization. As a grant writer you can learn so much. I knew very little about breast cancer when I began working on the proposal. That’s often the case, even for very experienced grant writers. Your expertise is not knowledge of the subject matter. That’s your client’s expertise. Your expertise is knowledge of your client (Which staff member or volunteer can point you to the information needed for the proposal?) and how to tell their story in a compelling way.
Many good grant writers have a perfectionist streak. That can work to your advantage, but only if you’re willing to admit that you don’t know it all! Use the strengths of your client and partners.
Though you can get a certificate in grant writing, I don’t recommend it. Two things count in grant writing: Experience and success. Proposals I’ve developed have brought in over $120 million. But some of those early ones were real clunkers. There’s nothing like the feedback of failure to signpost the road to improvement.
Some of the proposals I’ve written have garnered multi-million dollar awards, but many have been for small grants between $2,500 and $50,000, probably the range you’re targeting, if you’re just beginning to write grants. That’s how I started out 20 years ago. For the first several years of my career, I worked as a grant writer and project developer within organizations. For the past dozen years, I’ve managed my own company, choosing clients who are a good fit with my experience and interests.
In these pages I’ll refer to a grant writer’s client, since I’m typically in a contractual relationship. Even if you work as an employee, it’s still useful to think of other parts of the organization (the board of directors, your direct supervisor, or even yourself wearing a different hat) as your clients. Why do I think this is helpful? I want repeat customers; therefore, I want happy customers. I want to build long-term relationships. Over the years, I’ve learned to resist the impulse to include elements in a proposal that I know will score points with reviewers, but will be impossible for my client to implement. Creating fantasy proposals may get money in the short run, but will corrode your relationships in the long run.
An admission: I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I know, I know. The books on interviewing technique tell you to mention this as a shortcoming when you’re asked to list your strengths and weaknesses. A bit precious. And some bosses and clients may actually believe obsessive perfectionism to be a good thing. My experience: It undermines effectiveness. Profoundly. With Voltaire, I’ve come to believe The perfect is the enemy of the good. There’s more on this topic in my preface to the Breast Cancer Awareness sample grant proposal.
The flip side of perfectionism is procrastination. Those of you who suffer the malady will likely understand that comment.
So you’ve just been thrown into the deep end…maybe you’re staff who’s just had grant writing added to your job description. Or maybe you’re a board member who’s volunteered to try to get funding for a new program.
Welcome to the world of grant writing. It can be overwhelming at first, trying to sort through the vegetable soup. (What’s the difference between an RFP and an RFQ?) As the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so helpfully advises:
Consider me a friendly advisor.
First let me introduce myself…